MOUNTAIN STRIKE CORPS
The military budget of China has been increasing by double digits for more than two decades, which is quite alarming for India. In this second part of the article on the Indian Army’s new formation, the Mountain Strike Corps, find out what the Indian Army needs to focus on in order to counter China’s fast growing capabilities.
While structuring a Mountain Strike Corps, we should keep in mind the following major factors which dictate its organisation and structuring: terrain and weather conditions and their impact on operations; adversary’s organisation and his force levels; likely employment of the Strike Corps; induction of modern technology; Army Aviation assets and fire support requirements in the mountains. Employment of the Strike Corps having been discussed in the first part of the article, some other vital aspects of structuring are discussed in the following paragraphs.
Terrain and Weather Conditions
The terrain comprises high mountains and rarified atmosphere in high altitude areas in which physical exertion takes a heavy toll on the stamina and resilience of the soldiery. Hence acclimatisation and physical fitness of the soldiery is vital. Thus a mountain strike corps cannot be located in the plains because then the formations will have to get acclimatised before employment and their employment in high altitude areas will be restricted to start with. Therefore, the peace time location and the key location plan (KLP) of the mountain strike corps will have to be in the mountains and their unit and sub unit level training will invariably have to be done in areas similar to their areas of operational employment. Thus we can say that physical fitness, mobility and survivability, are closely linked characteristics of fighting formations in the mountains.
Weather conditions are generally such that by mid-day the skies get clouded and the weather packs up leading to rain and even thunderstorms. Thus employment of fighter/ground attack aircraft is generally confined to early hours of the morning. Hence reliance has to be largely placed on the integral weapons of the Army and it is in this context that the Army needs its own aviation assets in the form of armed and attack helicopters located at Forward Area Arming and Refuelling Points (FAARP) for which large helipads (helidromes) have to be constructed in peacetime with underground pens for the attack helicopters.
China’s Ground Forces
The military budget of China has been increasing by double digits for more than two decades. The International Institute for Strategic Studies in a 2011 report stated that if spending trends continue, China will achieve military equality with the United States in 15-20 years. Jane’s defence forecasts in 2012 estimated that China’s defence budget would increase from $119.80 billion to $238.20 billion between 2011-2015. This would make it larger than the defence budgets of all other major Asian nations combined. Hence India can ill afford to ignore the trends of military modernisation being undertaken by China.
The Annual Report to the US Congress in 2012 states: “On March 4, 2012, Beijing announced an 11.2 per cent increase in its annual military budget to roughly $106 billion. This increase continues more than two decades of sustained annual increases in China’s announced military budget. Analysis of 2000-2011 data indicates that China’s officially disclosed military budget grew at an average of 11.8 per cent per year in inflation-adjusted terms over the period.”
At the strategic level, to support the People’e Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) expanding set of roles and missions, they are ensuring sustained investment in advanced cruise missiles, short- and medium-range conventional ballistic missiles, anti-ship ballistic missiles, counterspace weapons and military cyberspace capabilities.
Of particular relevance in the modernisation of the PLA Ground Forces is the transformation of ground forces into a modular combined arms brigade-focused force structure. The thrust in ground forces is on missile warfare, cyber warfare, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capability, network-centricity, enhancement of Special Forces, increased rotary-wing aviation assets including the fielding of Z-10 attack helicopter, combined arms operations, long-range firepower and mobility.
What should be India’s thrust areas of modernisation
When the above PLA capabilities are compared to India’s advancements in its ground forces modernisation; the vast gap becomes evident. India has not introduced any new weapon system, barring a few missiles and a few indigenous helicopters in the Army in the past two decades or so. Heavier weapons apart, even the basic infantry weapons which need replacement have not been changed. Apathy at political and bureaucratic levels, lack of professionalism, inefficiency, departmental turf wars, lack of systematic integrated planning and allocation of funds on a long-term basis, corruption and complicated procurement procedures are hall marks of India’s defence modernisation.
In light of China’s growing capabilities, the Indian Army needs to focus on acquiring certain key capabilities. These include, air transportation of troops, battlefield air support with aviation assets owned and operated by the Army, modernisation of Special Forces units, conventional missile capability, cyber warfare capability, long-range firepower and precision-guided munitions, helicopter-borne and airborne operations to hasten the achievement of tactical objectives in the mountains, infiltration techniques by units and sub units, mountain warfare techniques of capturing objectives from difficult approaches, and surveillance and reconnaissance through a wide variety of means.
China’s Infrastructure Developments
China’s infrastructure developments provide an interesting study. Rapid build-up of China’s national road and rail transport system has greatly enhanced the PLA’s landbased transport capabilities. Many key civilian highway and railway projects, especially trunk rail lines and inter-provincial highways linking interior and coastal regions, have been constructed to military specifications and can be turned over to the PLA in the event of war. During China’s Eighth Five Year Plan, more than 50 national highways were built or renovated to military standards, including three roads leading into Tibet. China has developed a network of internal highways and subsidiary/feeder roads in the TAR to connect strategically significant border areas with India, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan by means of motorable roads. It has developed 58,000 km of road network in Tibet, including five major highways and a number of subsidiary roads. It is learnt that the PRC plans to build additional roads in the TAR to link 92 per cent of the TAR’s towns and 70 per cent of its administrative villages in the near future.
There are five operational airfields inside Tibet and as many as 15 surrounding it. The main airfields within the region include Gongar, Hoping, Pangta, Linchi and Gar Gunsa. The Gongar and Pangta airfields are being upgraded to cater to additional transients. Other additional airfields include Donshoon, Nagchuka and Shiquane. In fact, Pangta is known to have the highest elevation in the world. Further, ten new airports are planned to be constructed in the next five years. Of the 15 airfields in and around Tibet, only three are open for civilian activity. The improvements of operational airfields will impart a better rapid deployment capability to the PLA and enhance their overall mobilisation and logistics capability.
India’s Response in Terms of Infrastructure
The increased force levels in the Eastern Theatre will not be operationally sustainable if the road and airfield infrastructure does not keep pace with the increased strengths of personnel and transport. Not only would it be difficult to mobilise at short notice, even subsequent maintenance of the troops and equipment located in remote high-altitude areas would be difficult, and in war, sustenance of this force on limited arteries would be a nightmare. Deficiencies on the Indian side have been noted by the government especially in the border areas with China in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has been tasked to complete eight roads termed ‘strategic’ in Arunachal Pradesh by 2013. Only four have been completed as yet. Monika Chansoria, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), in her paper on China’s Infrastructure developments in Tibet states: “The BRO had been directed to complete construction of 608 km of roads stretching from Ladakh to Diphu La in Arunachal, at a cost of Rs. 992 crore ($203,000,000) by 2010. As many as 75 roads with a total length of more than 6,000 km are now under construction at a cost of Rs. 5,000 crore. Besides this, 7,000 km of roads costing Rs. 12,000 crore are under various stages of construction in the northeast. The Special Accelerated Road Development Programme for the Northeast (SARDP-NE) was divided into two phases: The first phase involving 1,300 km of roads, primarily in the northeastern states, to be completed by 2010; the second phase involves 5,700 km with a 2013 deadline. Further, the Inter-Ministerial China Study Group proposed construction of at least 75 roads all along the border, of which 36 have been earmarked for Arunachal Pradesh alone.”
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has reportedly begun upgrading its advanced landing grounds (ALGs) in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. The IAF has built four air bases in Ladakh since 2008, with plans to upgrade such bases in Arunachal in a time bound manner as well. It has been reported that India is also progressively reactivating old ALGs like the Daulat Beg Oldi, Phukche, Chushul and Nyoma airstrips in Ladakh. Similarly, apart from building new helipads and upgrading air bases, the IAF is also going to soon start basing its Sukhoi-30 MKI fighters in larger numbers in the eastern theatre for the first time.
Globally, the focus is on military capabilities that make maximum use of modern electronics and computers to improve combat capabilities at modest cost. This philosophy is termed as system of systems approach to military modernisation, as it places less emphasis on major weapons platforms than on what they carry and how they are networked. One could categorise the most important technologies into two groups: advanced precision munitions and information networks involving sensors and communication systems. In the mountains, long-range firepower is also essential so as to ensure support from own side of the border without having to move forward too often.
In the mountains, foot mobility of the soldier is impaired by the rugged terrain and high altitude effects which degrades the soldier’s physical capacity. This demands Spartan and self-reliant characteristic and an ability to employ traditional movement methods such as with porter, pony and man-pack. As a part of modernisation and capability building exercise, helicopters designed to operate at higher altitudes are a vital component of land forces operating in the mountains. This capability will impart both mobility and flexibility to land forces in the mountains and will tend to hasten the achievement of the mission. Personal weapons, clothing and equipment of the soldiers will have to be light and rugged. Personal weapons will have to be integrated with night sights. Surveillance capability has to be inbuilt at the lower tactical levels apart from its availability at operational and strategic levels. High physical fitness levels and a robust mental attitude, especially to fight high-altitude warfare, is an inescapable requirement.
Conflicts in the mountains are a likely scenario, in our context, both in our eastern and northern borders. In these settings, Army Aviation assets will play a pivotal role and will constitute the key element of a commander’s plans. The Army Aviation apart from being a force multiplier is the only integral element which can impart mobility and flexibility in the mountains. Other types of mobility are handicapped because of the terrain and weather conditions. Hence a higher capability in this regard can tilt the balance in any conflict. It would be pertinent to mention here that both our adversaries, China and Pakistan, have fully evolved Army Aviation Corps consisting of all class of helicopters including attack helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft as part of their inventory, whereas the Indian Army currently possesses only light observation helicopters with some armed capability being inducted in the next few years. The Army at the operational level of a Corps, is looking at an attack/armed helicopter unit, a reconnaissance and observation helicopter unit and a light/tactical battle support helicopter unit with each of its Corps in the plains, deserts and in the mountains. The heavy-lift helicopters and light fixed-wing aircraft, which is also on the wish list of the Army, when created would be command/theatre assets, for enhancing the logistics and lift capability as well as their utilisation for command and control purposes. In the absence of adequate and suitable infrastructure on our eastern borders this could be a very critical resource. The concept of Corps Aviation Brigades has already been implemented, the first one being already effective in 14 Corps with three helicopter units under its command.
Equipping the Manpower
A mountain strike corps is vital for the mountainous terrain of the Eastern theatre where the challenge from our principle adversary, China, is looming large. China has laid claim over the entire territory of Arunachal Pradesh. Under the circumstances, India has no option but to engineer a potent defensive and offensive capability in the Eastern Theatre. However, the mere availability of manpower of two or three mountain/infantry divisions without the necessary equipment and force multipliers will not impart any additional capability. Our procurement process is in such a bad state that no new weapon system has been inducted in the last two decades or so in the Army. The procedure is so complicated and lengthy that both the buyer and the seller get tired by the end of it. A process which should take 24-36 months actually takes about 8-10 years or more and thus by the time the equipment is inducted, it is considered technologically outdated.
Deterrence has been defined as the prevention from action by fear of the consequences. Deterrence is also defined as a state of mind brought about by the existence of a credible threat of unacceptable counteraction. It is also accepted by military strategists that deterrence is a product of military capability plus political will to use the capability when required. India’s self image and its perceived image abroad do not qualify the nation to be in this league despite the military capability it may acquire. Hence this is one area we need to pay attention to, apart from our decision-making and procurement process, if our deterrence has to work.